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Ten words that prove you aren't posh

Just how common is your language? Do you say what or pardon? Sofa or couch? Lavatory or toilet?

Etiquette expert William Hanson

These are just some examples of words categorised as U and Non-U by the linguist Professor Alan Ross in 1954. U refers to upper class and Non-U refers to non-upper class. The U and Non-U list was popularised by the socialite Nancy Mitford two years later and became a way for people to discover whether someone was upper class, or merely aspiring to be so.

On Radio 4's U and Non-U: Does Anyone Still Care?, etiquette expert and author William Hanson has updated the guidelines to create a new list that combines words from the original guide with updated language from today’s world. If you don’t want to sound common, what words should you not be saying? Here are William’s top ten Non-U words to avoid at all costs!

1. Toilet

This was on the original 1950s list and, to be honest, I’d rather chew glass than use the word toilet in polite conversation. It’s a harsh word that was adapted from the French toilette which means your appearance, hence toiletries bag. Lavatory or loo is much more acceptable.

2. Pardon?

The non-upper classes stole a lot of words from the French language to try and sound like they had a higher social standing. "Pardon" is a classic example of trying to sound upper class when you’re really not. Keep it simple and just say "what?" "I beg your pardon", however, is fine.

3. Bubbly

Let’s be honest. The word "bubbly" was invented to make people feel less guilty for serving prosecco rather than Champagne at a party. Bubbly is a big Non-U giveaway. There’s no need to beat around the bush, so no matter what you’re pouring into the glass just say Champagne or prosecco.

There is only one acceptable way to greet someone, and that is with the word hello. Hey is what horses eat.

4. Lounge

You only find a lounge at an airport. Simple. When you’re in your house you relax in the sitting room or drawing room. I also don’t agree with the use of living room as a description for the room where you spend most of your time. You live in every room of your house, correct?

5. Latte

This is another example of the non-upper classes using words from different languages to try and make themselves sound like they’re upper class. If you want a coffee, just ask for a coffee. It’s rare that U folk would want a faffy drink such as a latte. There’s no need to get all complicated

6. Hey

If you’re so lazy that you have to shorten a five letter word to a three letter word then you are most certainly Non-U. There is only one acceptable way to greet someone, and that is with the word hello. Hey... is what horses eat.

7. Banter

Words popularised by TV like banter should be avoided at all costs. What does banter even mean? The upper classes don’t need to borrow words that may be in fashion for a few months, so the more traditional repartee is preferable. When Non-U speakers say that the banter is great it usually is tedious and predictable.

Cleese, Barker and Corbett lampooned the class system in 1966

8. Vintage

There are a lot of euphemisms when it comes to words on the Non-U list. Seemingly those from the non-upper classes feel the need to avoid the obvious when it comes to language usage. That shirt you’re wearing isn’t vintage, it’s old. When it comes to furniture, there’s no such thing as vintage, it’s antique.

9. iPhone

Oh, brand names. If you feel the need to describe things using a make or model then you’re most certainly Non-U. Those in the upper classes are confident in their social standing, so there’s no need to get all flashy. If something is ringing in your pocket, it is a phone regardless of brand.

10. Movie

When it comes to language, avoid Americanisms at all costs. I’m aware that it may seem glamorous to use words from Hollywood, but when it comes to British class, think York not New York. You visit the cinema to watch a film and never a movie.

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